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Houston Election Contest A Cautionary Tale for Statewide Registration

A Weekend Editorial
By Greg Moses

Quorum Report Morning Call Mar. 13, 2005

Last week we reported that the Republican-led contest to unseat Hubert Vo was a massive intrusion into voter privacy enabled by new voter management software (VEMACS).

The power of this software to enable partisan harassment of voters after close elections raises serious issues, especially considering that Texas faces a Jan. 1 deadline to adopt a statewide voter management system. (See Help America Vote Act (HAVA) timeline.)

On March 8, the Secretary of State for Texas announced that IBM and Hart InterCivic would be lead vendors for the statewide voter management system.

The experience of the Republican-led effort to unseat Vo helps to formulate one clear principle for advancing technologies of voter management: the technology should enable robust voter participation, not increase the likelihood of post-election criminalization.

After seeing what happened in Houston, voting-rights activists who have been pre-occupied with verifiable vote counting could very well augment their agendas to include responsive registration.

As technology is centralized to register voters and to produce voter rolls for election day, voter activists need to take a harder look for ways that powerful technologies can be made ever more flexible to meet registration needs of voters.

For example, what is the logistical reason why voters should have their registrations completed 30 days before an election if new databases can enable real-time production of precinct lists on election day?

What we do not need is a powerful, centralized voter database that enables the kind of criminalization and invasion of voting rights witnessed in the Republican-led contest for HD 149.

A press release from Hart InterCivic phrases the challenge of voter management in terms of preventing fraud.

In most states, voter registration data has been maintained at the local level. The increasing mobility of the population results in voter registration files that are quickly outdated, increasing the complexity of voter registration management and the possibility of voter fraud or inaccuracies.

The paragraph gives us a shiver, because it sounds so much like the baseless suspicions raised by Republican attorney Andy Taylor as he led a massive invasion of voter privacy in the HD 149 race. When busy voters went back to their old polling places and divulged their new addresses, they were NOT attempting any fraud, they were just trying to cope with their responsibilities in a rather inflexible environment.

We would rather see a paragraph like this:

As the vaunted free market system increasingly tosses workers from one home to another, local registration can add frustration and inconvenience to the experience of voting, allowing Republican attack dog lawyers the opportunity to increasingly criminalize more hard working and honest people who don’t always vote for powerful Republican incumbents. A statewide database can enable voters to more easily maintain their livelihoods, their voter registrations, and their privacy without fear of desperate partisan reprisals.

On the other hand, maybe the federal mandate for statewide registration is altogether a bad idea. It will put more power over voter registration and enforcement into fewer hands and may end up causing more trouble than it was supposed to save. If non-partisan voter registration is really non-existent, maybe it’s best to keep the partisan puzzle in smaller pieces.

Looks like we have some questions to follow next week. Stay tuned.

By mopress

Writer, Editor, Educator, Lifelong Student

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